Netzanet Fredeh is constantly required by her surroundings to bear the title "an Israeli of Ethiopian origin." But she bears this title with pride. As commander of the Immigration and Integration Branch of the Israel Defense Forces' Education Corps, she works to advance the lot of Ethiopian soldiers - an advancement that she herself epitomizes.
She recently returned from a trip to the United States with the chief of staff and other senior officers, on which she told her life story to a crowd of Jewish donors. She described her childhood in Ethiopia and the long journey she endured to this point, which may soon include a milestone that has yet to be attained by any Israeli of Ethiopian extraction: a promotion to the rank of major.
As Independence Day approached, she was not surprised when the IDF spokesperson requested that she, the promising Ethiopian officer, give interviews to the press.
"Perhaps they invited me [to the U.S.] because I'm Ethiopian," said Fredeh, a resident of Beit Shemesh. "But I look at the trip and the other things as a wonderful opportunity. Unfortunately, it isn't natural for there to be an Ethiopian officer - a capable Ethiopian, a proud Ethiopian. I try to use this label to my advantage and, often, to the community's advantage."
Her story begins with an old picture of her father holding his daughter in his arms. This is the only memento she has of her father, who was a soldier in the Ethiopian army. When she was three years old, he was killed in Ethiopia's civil war.
At the age of nine, her mother sent her to Israel with an uncle. There, she enrolled in the Segula girls' religious high school in Kiryat Motzkin. She considers this "one of the best things that ever happened to me. It was there that I was given the confidence to stand on my own."
This confidence later brought her to write a letter to then-president Ezer Weizman begging him to arrange her mother's immigration to Israel.
"I remember when I went to the post office to buy a stamp," she recalled. "The clerk saw what was written on the envelope and looked at me with pity, as if to say, 'Why is a girl like me, a naive, foolish girl, writing a letter to the president?'"
"I received an answer from the president's office within two weeks saying he would help me," she continued. "A few months later, my mother and my two brothers were in Israel."
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